There are some successful bands who can blatantly wear their influences on their sleeves — like most Warped Tour punk bands aping Sex Pistols and the Clash — but success usually comes from melding influences with your own take on the sound. There are hints and peeks at the heroes, but rarely a full regurgitation. On Roadkill Ghost Choir’s debut album, In Tongues, the band does a proper job of throwing all their influences into a large shaker and mixing with a grandiose approach to create a cocktail of Americana and smooth British rock.
Names like Radiohead and Tom Petty have been tossed around to describe Roadkill Ghost Choir’s ethereal rock, and those certainly fit. The bass line in the verses of “A Blow to the Head” bounces and jerks over computer whirs and reverbed guitars that owe a lot to “Subterranean Homesick Alien” and “Climbing Up the Walls” — as does lead singer Andrew Shepard’s guttural yelp toward the end of the track.
Shepard’s voice, however, rarely goes toward the lightness of Thom Yorke, but instead lives firmly in the grit and drive of storytellers like Petty, and even Jim James. “No Enemy” wonderfully mixes Petty’s desert drive story with James’ floating, cavernous atmospherics.
Roadkill Ghost Choir, however, is more than the sum of its parts. Tracks like the explosive “Slow Knife” and slow roller “Dead Friend” have a distinct breadth and weight added to each instrument and vocal line that their influences don’t. Shepard stated that he wrote the lyrics for the album while on an extended tour, feeling the distance from home, so a disconnected feeling akin to OK Computer only makes sense. Roadkill Ghost Choir, however, never let it get that doomy and gloomy, and the steady movement in the instruments throughout In Tongues keeps the band from stalling out.
In the end, the quintet proves able to create a new kind of Americana, one away from Tom Petty. They’re able to pull the blanket around the cold expanse of Radiohead. They’ve created an arena-ready album on their first release, as My Morning Jacket once did. Though it’s by no means a perfect record, sagging and repeating a bit near the end, In Tongues is wide and deep like a lonely night on the plains, but always has bright city lights to guide it home.
Essential Tracks: “Slow Knife”, “Dead Friend”, and “A Blow to the Head”